250+ Words

Put occupants at the heart


As climate change, energy efficiency and sustainability continue to dominate industry discussions, there is a need to consider end-users’ preferences as we implement changes. The lack of attention to client needs often means incorrect or inefficient operation and high levels of dissatisfaction resulting in high energy usage. For designers and engineers focused on achieving well-being in buildings, and high levels of occupant satisfaction; Post-Occupancy Evaluations (POE) should be at the heart of this.

POE is the procedure of acquiring feedback on building performance by end-users. It can enhance building operation, address issues and improve future procurement; serving as a benchmarking tool. It involves collecting data on occupant use and behaviour, environmental performance, occupant interviews, surveys, and energy analysis. Despite the many methods sometimes it may just be a simple walk-around with project staff and the client or end-user.     

POE stems back from the 1990s in which Bill Bordass and Adrian Leaman led the research into the usability of buildings, and later coming up with the Building User Survey (BUS) methodology. The focus of the survey was to understand user perceptions of the building with the hope of increasing satisfaction and usability amongst occupants, and thereby optimising operational functions. Its origins began in the 1960s when the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) discovered the need for occupant perspective on completed buildings to improve service for future clients. The RIBA Handbook of Architectural Practice and Management report included a final stage called ‘feedback’ which was instrumental in delivering evidence to clients about the experience of users in the building. 

For designers, POE should form part of the RIBA Plan of Work stages 6 and 7 where the assets are assessed against the initial brief, and the handover strategy is developed. However, it can be extremely insufficiently carried out since the methods of POE varies.

POE has many benefits. However, it is viewed as costly and unnecessary meaning there is currently little momentum surrounding its adoption into project scopes. It is generally, more common on larger projects or large architecture firms.

The Process

Like POE, Soft landings is the term given to the procurement process that bridges the construction to operational phases smoothly. The Soft Landings Framework led by BSRIA and the Usable Buildings Trust follows six phases from briefing to extended aftercare.

The framework includes POE at the last stage, where indoor environmental conditions and occupant satisfaction surveys are completed.

The idea is to eliminate the hurdles users face when occupying a new building achieved through creating a series of measurable targets at the design phase, which is then monitored during the operational phase. The process involves monitoring new buildings up to 3 years after completion, but for some project teams, this is part of a larger process in which the primary goal is to bridge the gap between predicted and actual energy performance rather than increasing the satisfaction of occupants.

Government Soft Landings is another framework for government procured projects which utilises an eight stage process. The framework covers a detailed design brief through to construction team feedback in year three. It is mandatory on all public sector construction.

Currently, the issue is with extending the range of these processes to include more projects rather than just large ones and ensuring users are at the focal point. Another issue is both POE, and Soft Landings are tools sometimes used in commercial projects; there is little implementation in residential or domestic projects.

What’s Next?

As we move towards the EU’s target of all new buildings being nearly zero-energy by 2020 which the government is quite possibly still committed to achieving post-Brexit; and the more rigorous Climate Change Act 2008 proposal of reducing greenhouse gases by 80-95% of 1990 levels the implementation of these will likely involve performance-based monitoring and feedback. The process of making buildings more energy efficient is evidenced in building performance evaluation (BPE) learned from studies like the (Post-occupancy review of buildings and their engineering) ‘PROBE’ Project. The PROBE project was government-commissioned research into building performance of 20 non-domestic buildings published in 29 articles.

POE not only results in better energy management, but occupant comfort and well-being are increased as facilities management learn about how well the building is functioning and is managed. It would, therefore, be more advantageous to include occupant specific monitoring while this occurs as there have been many studies which suggest buildings can perform well, but neglect to meet user needs.

Ensuring occupant satisfaction as part of the project process ensures better success at achieving the clients' requirements and could potentially avoid costly mistakes in future procurement.

In an industry focused on performance targets and the elusiveness of sustainability, it would be sensible to focus on the lengthiest part of building procurement and those who use them.


Disclaimer: The sole responsibility for any views expressed lies with the author(s). Any opinions shared do not necessarily represent the views of Saint-Gobain.

Bianca Bryan
Bianca Bryan Graduate of Environmental Design and Engi...
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